Twelve years after Brandi Chastain’s show-stopping championship-winning penalty kick against the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. Women’s National Team is still struggling to recreate 1999 magic and win the World Cup. Coincidentally, yesterday’s match-up against Brazil, led by the ever-deft Marta, kept returning to the same theme: penalty kicks. No, there was no jersey removing, but there were a ton of fouls, a game-changing red card, controversial calls, and, of course, exceptional players who showed the world where the action really happens — women’s sports.
The USA/Brazil match-up is not for the weak of heart. In 2007, Brazil shamed the U.S. in a 4-0 World Cup loss, yet the U.S. maintains all four Olympic victories over Brazil. Yesterday’s match upped the ante and the drama even more, beginning with an own goal in the second minute by Brazil’s Daiane. A rather rough match brought a slew of yellow cards and free kicks, but it was Buehler’s red card in the box in the minute 65 that ushered in the most controversy yet and seemed to seal the U.S.’s fate. Cristiane took the penalty kick for Brazil and although goalkeeper Hope Solo pummeled it away, the referee made another controversial call and ordered a redo PK on the grounds of encroachment, plus a yellow card to Solo for committing said foul, although that still remains questionable. This time Marta took the shot and scored, tying up the game 1-1.
For the next 45 minutes, the U.S. was forced to play 10 women to Brazil’s 11, and let in another goal by, arguably, one of the best soccer players in the world, Marta. As the match entered three extra minutes of stoppage time — due to an unsportsmanlike stall by Brazil’s Erika — past the 90 minute regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, it seemed clear that the U.S.’s defeat was imminent. But in the very last minute, Megan Rapinoe sailed the most beautiful cross to forward Abby Wambach, who blasted a header into the back of the net, equalizing the game 2-2 and rescuing the US team’s chances of winning its first World Cup since 1999.
In a moment of poetic vindication, the fate of the match was decided by none other than penalty kicks. Both the U.S. and Brazilian players alternately scored their PKs until Hope Solo once again proved herself a true leader, and stopped Daiane’s shot, making it 3-2.
Rapinoe pounded the ball into the net, and last, Ali Krieger easily drove the ball in, signaling the U.S.’s victorious finish and keeping aflame its dreams of a World Cup victory.
While all the women played exceptionally well, it was clear that Solo, Rapinoe, and Wambach and Brazilian Marta, stole the show. Ellen DeGeneres Tweeted her congratulations to the USWNT, who advance to the semi-finals against France this Wednesday.
It’s unclear what the match-up against the French team will look like, and whether the American team again will be embattled in contentious calls, but one thing is for certain: We’ll get the talent, passion, heart, and ferocity that one can only find in a tournament so world-class.